Archive for June, 2014

Sweet Sixteen

June 29, 2014

Time for a quick World Cup Round-of-Sixteen scorecard.   Lunghu made some bold(ish) predictions about the round-robin group matches before the World Cup began:  let’s see how they turned out.

  • “Group H is by no means a lock for Team Russia.  We should not underestimate the abilites of the (hot weather) Korean and Algerian teams –Lunghu thinks there’s a big surprise coming out of Group H.”

Russia’s out, Algeria’s in.  Lunghu may have overestimated the abilities of the Korean team for sentimental reasons, but it’s clear that the Algerians are big, tough, and willing to fight.  Little wonder that their grandfathers sent the French colons packing in the early 1960’s.

  • “Neither Goldman analysts nor PaddyPower bettors give enough credit or respect to the Dark Continent teams. [B]oth Ghana in Group G and Nigeria in Group F may have enough to take second in their [respective] groups.”

Ghana’s out (go USA!), Nigeria’s in.  Ivory Coast should have done better, but somehow Greece slid through.

  •  “Lunghu thinks that it’s important consider the impact of outright bribery on the outcome of World Cup games.”

You’ve seen Yuichi Nishimura in Game One. There’s probably more to come.  Stay tuned.


Looking forward

Who does Lunghu favor in the quarters, semis and perhaps beyond?   Let’s just say that he’s looking at a tricolor flag of gold, blue and red.  The referees may be a mountainous obstacle against Brazil, but Señor Ha-mess has shown the world what amazing performance looks like.



Pole Dancing

June 23, 2014

Poland’s ruling political party is being embarrassed by clandestine audio recordings of various ministers making various indiscreet statements (while under the influence of vodka, perhaps) in private VIP rooms at Warsaw restaurants.

Last week Wprost magazine released a transcript of a compromising conversation between the interior minister and the head of Poland’s national bank. On Sunday, the magazine published a transcript of a leaked conversation in which Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asserted that Poland’s close alliance with the U.S. is worthless and harmful for Poland because it provides a false sense of security while antagonizing Russia and Germany. Attention in Poland has turned to who could have carried out illegal surveillance on such a scale: the recordings took place at at least two Warsaw restaurants over an extended period and captured on tape more than a dozen officials, politicians and company bosses.

Radek Sikorski_2013

“The government has come under attack from an organized criminal group,” Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in Luxembourg as he arrived for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.
“We don’t yet know who stands behind it … but [the conspiracy] is being investigated [to] determine the identities of the group members and, above all, of the masterminds.”

This is a necessarily discreet and roundabout way of naming the true culprit: “Comrade Bear.”  After all, very few people could credibly dispute the characterization of Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin and United Russia as “an organized criminal group.”  But not even the United States Treasury Department is willing to come right out and say so –in public.

And for those of you who need mid-June’s geopolitical diagram fully sketched in, this entire affair can and should be viewed as Comrade Bear’s counterattack in response to the ongoing CoolWar contest in Ukraine.  Not quite the Battle of Kursk with massed Red Army tank formations, but a counterattack on the Central Front nonetheless.  In this sort of struggle, topless women are –sadly– of limited value.


Make Art, Not War

June 19, 2014

Lunghu has previously written about the combination of message and medium chosen by the European activist group Femen, and its waning effectiveness.   He’s still waiting to see whether Femen will merely continue to deploy minor twists and tweaks in their traditional tactical repertoire, or whether they can make the quantum leap to an entirely new strategic approach.  Meanwhile, the game is changing  –art once more imitates life in order to further commodify the novelty of a formerly shocking spectacle.

Compare and contrast:  European media outlets take a starkly different approach to covering female public nudity … depending on the message intended by the body in question.

Exhibit A.  Femen chooses a soft target at the Musée Grévin waxworks as Merkel, Hollande, Obama and Juan Carlos look the other way.



Exhibit B.   Performance artist Milo Moiré displays her hidden assets to show the Basel Art Fair what transparency in Swiss banking should look like.



Looks to Lunghu as though she’s riffing on the classic Femen signature style:  black ink, block letters, bodacious boldness.  But her message isn’t outrage and anger.  Instead, it seems to be a silent, ambiguous commentary on consumerism, eroticized marketing schemes, and the importance of sturdy shoes.  Reflect deeply upon this.


Rio de Oro

June 12, 2014

Well, it’s just about official:  Brazil will win the World Cup.  Lunghu watched FIFA’s referee award Brazil a go-ahead second-half penalty kick that Le Monde graciously characterized as “very generous.”  Lunghu thinks the phrase “highly dubious” is a much better description of the call.

Brazilian striker Fred went down inside the area under minimal contact from defender Dejan Lovren. “If that was a penalty, we should be playing basketball,” said Croatia coach Niko Kovac.  “Those kinds of fouls are penalized there.”


Sure, it was a foregone conclusion that Brazil would open the tournament with a victory aganst Croatia, and that anything and everything would be done to ensure that outcome, but Lunghu was hoping for a little more finesse from the referee.  He must have lost his nerve — and couldn’t risk waiting until the last ten minutes to call the phantom foul.  Too bad there’s not a (published) betting line on the referees.

Yuichi Nishimura:  does he have long-lost Nipo-Brasileiro relatives in São Paulo?  Because Lunghu has heard that …

The beginning of World War I in 1914 started a boom in Japanese migration to Brazil; between 1917 and 1940 over 164,000 Japanese came to Brazil, 75% of them going to São Paulo, where many became owners of coffee plantations. In the 1970’s Japanese Brazilians achieved great cultural and economic success. Today the largest concentrations of Japanese people in Brazil are found in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.


Homem de Ouro

June 2, 2014

As of June 1st, the 2014 United States collegiate rowing season has concluded and “only” Henley remains for the rest of the best.  For the rest of the planet, the fever of World Cup fútbol has already begun.  Bookmakers around the globe have scheduled additional armored car service so that mountains of newly-wagered cash can be safely hauled away to the nearest accommodating bank.  Pundits and punters are making their predictions  –usually without the benefit of feng shui auguries and omens.  Some of these soothsayers include some very unlikely suspects:

Economists at Goldman Sachs have issued a 60-page report with detailed analyses of each World Cup team and a forecast for outcome of the tournament.  These predictions are derived from a formula that estimates the number of goals a team is likely to score in a game based on its past performance as well as on other factors, such as whether the team is playing at home.

Brazil, the host country, is strongly favored to win the championship, with odds of winning the championship almost as good as even, according to Goldman. Argentina, which the firm says is the next most likely to win, has a 14 percent chance.

[However,] Goldman’s model relies heavily on past performance, meaning that it [might] fail to accurately predict performance for a team that is improving rapidly or that is suddenly confronting a new obstacle, such as an injury [ or scorching Brazilian heat –Lunghu ].  Goldman did not provide confidence intervals or an R-squared value for their model. These statistics would help readers understand how well the analysts’ technique would have worked in past World Cups –and how well past performance predicts future results in soccer generally.

Goldman Sachs’ own “past performance” during the previous decade (in marketing collateralized debt obligation securities and credit default swaps) might be an indication that its investment bankers are heavily shorting Brazil and Argentina … while its analysts tout the two nations’ chances.

Javier Galeano_Nobsa

What do actual gamblers think?  Let’s compare and contrast.  The Goldman Sachs report predicted the top two finishers in each World Cup Group:  the teams that will advance to the Round of Sixteen.  So have bettors at PaddyPower, the Irish bookmaking chain.  The Irish were bilked of billions by their banks, with Goldman’s help.  Can they get closer to balancing the books with a double-or- nothing bet on the outcome of World Cup group play?

Here’s where both sides agree:

  • Group A (Brazil & Croatia)
  • Group B (Spain & Netherlands)
  • Group D (Italy & Uruguay)
  • Group G (German & Portugal)

Partial agreement:

  • Group C (Goldman — Greece & Colombia; Irish — Colombia & Ivory Coast, with Greece finishing last in the group)
  • Group E (Goldman — France & Ecuador; the Irish — France & Switzerland)
  • Group F (Goldman — Argentina & Iran; the Irish — Argentina & Bosnia)
  • Group H (Goldman — Russia 1st, Belgium 2nd; the Irish — Belgium 1st, by a wide margin over Russia)


Also interesting:  the way PaddyPower’s betting line has moved over the past few days. The following teams have lowered odds (a reflection that they are seen by bettors to have improving chances in group play):  Croatia(A); Spain(B); Japan(C), Uruguay(D); Portugal(G); Ghana(G); South Korea(H), and Algeria(H).

Other teams have odds that are increasing (sometimes only a little, sometimes a lot). This is a reflection of reduced interest in betting on these teams, often because they are viewed as overpriced:  Mexico(A); Australia(B); Greece(C); France(E); Honduras(E); Germany(G); USA(G), and Belgium(H).

Lunghu is wondering whether moves in the betting lines for Croatia and Germany have anything to do with referee assignments for World Cup matches. Sepp Blatter isn’t the only guy in fútbol with bulging pockets…

And as long as it’s time for predictions, Lunghu has some modest proposals of his own.  First, Group H is by no means a lock for Team Russia.  The fact that they have an Italian coach doesn’t suddenly make them the Nuovo Azzuri, and even though they’re playing group games in the “cooler” southern region of Brazil there are other environmental hazards that could affect their conditioning and play:  Brazilian cuties, cachaca and cocaine.  Nor should we underestimate the abilites of the (hot weather) Korean and Algerian teams –Lunghu thinks there’s a big surprise coming out of Group H.

Second, neither Goldman analysts nor PaddyPower bettors give enough credit or respect to the Dark Continent teams.  Aside from Ivory Coast in a somewhat weak Group C, both Ghana in Group G and Nigeria in Group F may have enough to take second in their groups.  Cameroon in Group A?  Maybe not so much.  Argentina and Germany both appear unbeatable in the early round-robin matchups, but don’t discount the impact of something close to home-field advantage in the slave trade ports of Natal, Recife, Salvador, Porto Alegre or Fortaleza.  Expect a warm welcome for distant African relatives.

Finally, Lunghu thinks that it’s important consider the impact of outright bribery on the outcome of World Cup games.  Anyone tempted to bet on World Cup fútbol should definitely compare the ranking of each national soccer team with that nation’s ranking on the Transparency International corruption index (and then multiply by per capita GDP?).  Using that standard, Russia, Iran and Nigeria might be clear favorites.  Maybe there’s another reason that Denmark isn’t represented in this year’s World Cup.  Caveat emptor.